It’s fairly low on the probability scale that my letter to the BBC is going to be read out on Points of View.
But I have to say this about yesterday’s coverage of the Jubilee.
I’m not a monarchist. I’m not comfortable with the hereditary principle. I rather like the Queen. I am quite a fan of Prince Charles, for as well as being mildly eccentric I think he makes the best, sartorially and charitably, of a very strange position in life. I’m entirely agnostic about the Princes, and aesthetically quite taken with HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. But a monarchist I ain’t, for I’d prefer an elected head of state.
But I am totally in favour of the Household Division, the Royal Standard, the great uniforms and music and horses and bands that go with our national pagents. I don’t see the problem with making all of that available to an elected head of state. Just look at the inauguration of a President of theUnited States: pomp, braid, music and great oratory at the steps of the Capitol. Or Hollande waving from in his little car, surrounded with the largest mass movement of French cavalry up the Champs Elysees in a generation. Couldn’t help wondering if a small German armoured car had appeared behind them at the Place de la Concorde. But my point? It can be done, and you don’t need DNA to do it.
But whether for those elected or crowned, such great events should be covered properly.
The Daily Mail, rarely, captures my point today. I’d usually say the Daily Mail getting a national story right is proof of the thousand monkeys theory. But they nailed the fury of the WWII veteran sailor on HMS Belfast being asked by Fearne Cotton what he thought of waving a flag. The coverage showed a lack of homework, a lack of discerning taste, and a fundamental failure to grasp the job of a national broadcaster.
You see, BBC, the purpose of televising a national event is to allow those who can’t be there to see it. It isn’t to showcase your “talent.” It isn’t to record for posterity the B-list presenters, failed comedians, and talk hosts that you had on vastly inflated salaries at the moment of the Diamond Jubilee. It is to provide a public service for me, and my fellow licence fee payers.
The BBC’s interference-crackled forays to street parties and sodden-gazeboed gatherings of the population at large are pointless. Frankly, on days like that I don’t care what the ordinary man on the street thinks. I can ask myself. I am not a democratic historian when it comes to state occasions. A royal river parade is not the miners’ struggle, or the Chartists, these things of the history of working people I truly care about. When it comes to history’s record of great national ceremonies, the OBs, which are the equvalent of recording the opinions of a Piccadilly whelk-seller at the Restoration procession of Charles II, are entirely irrelevant. Such things are a footnote, of interest only to respected cultural historians and, I presume, Guardian-reading BBC producers.
God, it was awful. The p***-taking commentary was pathetic. The “technical issues caused by the weather” is a pure excuse: the BBC managed to cover the coronation in 1953, and did a damned sight better job, in the pouring rain with the technology of the time. And Matt Baker’s dreadful suit was a crime.
Auntie, the whole thing was simply incompetent.
My personal low-point was when HMS Belfast fired a royal salute from the mighty guns that saw service during D-Day and the Korean War. A tremendous spectacle, from a magnificent cruiser. And the BBC cocked it up.
The best bit about great state occasions, whether elected or hereditary, is the music. The Yanks have Sousa and John Williams. In Britain we have Parry, Arne, the great Methodist hymn-writers, and we have Handel.
I had joked before the pageant that, at least, the Red Button technology would allow us to select which musical barge to listen to, just as we select rugby commentary streams. That way, I smiled, we might avoid the regurgitated Radio 3 noise of Maxwell Davies and the other atonal nonentities from whom special compositions would be inflicted on the listening public. The BBC might even redeem its cultural vandalism of the Last Night of the Proms, with its sphincter-clutchingly pretentious messing-up of the Henry Wood Sea Songs to allow outside broadcasts and ersatz pan-country inclusivity aimed at justifying the vast amounts of money spent on the Beeb’s variable regional orchestras.
But we didn’t even get a sniff of it. Not a Hornpipe. Nary a Minuet. Forget an Allegro.
Which fool decided that the musical element could be served by a short view of a silent barge in which the LPO were secreted, with a gurning and soakingly inadequate chamber choir in the crow’s nest? Why were the Drowned Rats at the (anti-)climax of the pageant the sole musical element of a day that offered such great musical potential?
Because some idiot producer at the BBC had decided that we would hear Tess Daly, Fearne Cotton, and the utterly moronic Alex Jones instead of the Water Music. TheAcademyofAncient Music, one of the world’s finest period orchestras. Playing, on original instruments and in its original setting, music for a royal procession on theThames. A once in a generation opportunity. And the BBC missed it out totally.